Word: 30 Ways to Begin, Part 2

Let’s jump in where we left off last week without dressing up the introduction too much, shall we?

16. Try a redemptive historical reading (especially fun in the Old Testament). Ask, “How does this passage point to something about the person or work of Jesus?” It assumes that He is the ultimate Hero of Scripture, and that the entire text is good news. Christ is the “true and better,” be it Adam, ark, tabernacle, feast, sacrifice, rescuer, or any other of a thousand symbols all pointing to what a big deal He is. This isn’t a “Where’s Waldo Jesus edition;” the written Word was always meant to point to the Word made flesh. Keeping an eye toward the cross brings out beautiful and rich tones that can be easily missed otherwise.

17. Give imaginative reading a go. If you’re studying a narrative, put yourself in different characters’ shoes—first the bleeding woman, then a disciple, then a member of the crowd, then a bird overhead, all observing various angles of the same moment. Explore the five senses and watch Scripture come alive. Are you reading an epistle (like Paul’s letter to the church at Rome)? Think about the text from the original audience’s point of view: maybe you’re an ex-priestess from the temple of Vesta or a slave in the emperor’s household. How might your background expand the passage’s impact?

18. Switch roles at the interrogation table. Tim Keller says that informational reading is when you ask the Scripture questions, while formational reading is when the Scripture asks you questions. Along with generalities that can be posed by any passage (“Where am I living like this is true? Where am I living like it’s false?”), allow each verse to concoct its own distinctive questions. (Psalm 23:1 might ask, “What kind of Shepherd is the Lord? What kind of sheep am I? Where have I refused to let the Shepherd satisfy me? Why?”) Careful—this method will get all up in your business.

19. Discuss it at mealtime. Whether you’re hosting a gathering of friends or an intimate family dinner, chew on the Word as you chew on your food. Let it shape the conversation, inviting others into the truth and beauty of each day’s text and keeping your eyes peeled for where God might show up next. If you make this a practice at every meal for a month, you’re bound to have some interesting encounters and a host of new perspectives.

20. Map your day around one verse. Circle back to the same words throughout the regular rhythms of your life. Try morning, noon, and night, or if a passage has really gone radioactive, review it every hour. Allow the phrases to saturate your moments and color each experience.

21. Retreat with God. Plan anywhere from a few hours to a weekend with no responsibilities. Make the necessary arrangements, and then get the heck out of dodge. Find a place your soul can breathe (I particularly love quiet spots near bodies of water, but you might ache for a cozy coffee shop or a tent in the woods). Then break out your Bible and journal, requesting the Lord to meet with you in whatever way He sees fit. No distractions, no worries, and no rushing.

22. Stitch a problem coat. (Yes, I just made up a term.) We all have situations of confusion and chaos, freshly exposing our needy selves. Collect every verse from Scripture that deals with the various aspects of your circumstances, sewing together a gospel covering for your insides. Do as much as you can by yourself first, then ask a trusted friend or mentor to contribute any missing pieces they notice. The point isn’t to make a perfect coat but to preach specific truths to a specific heart in a specific situation.

23. Tie passages to what you’re learning elsewhere. When a sentence from a book particularly strikes you, think about a verse related to it. Did you notice a new concept at work yesterday? Hunt for a phrase from Scripture that builds on it or challenges it. (Note: We’re not proof-texting here—making Scripture try to fit our needs outside its original context. Nor are we on a theology witch hunt. This is a personal exercise in creating cross-disciplinary learning.)

24. Go long until you need to go deep. Pretend you’re a mole, tunneling just beneath the surface. You make some good headway for about a mile at one foot under, but then you run into a boulder and are forced to dig downward to get around it. Read straight through the Bible until you sense you need to stop and camp out on a word, phrase, or thought. Then dig into whatever that is until God gives you the go-ahead to continue before hitting your next “boulder” to mine. You can read through Scripture every year and stop at different places each time, never running out of new discoveries to make.

25. Adapt study to your learning style. This is one instance in which “different strokes for different folks” is not heresy—it’s common sense. Auditory learners might not love the maps and charts section of the Bible, and kinesthetic people will probably find study easier when paired with movement. If you’re not certain of your primary style, try this. Discovering and then utilizing your unique wiring will help you get the most out of your time in the Word.

26. Learn the biblical languages. Granted, this one could send you off screaming at first, but hear me out. Apart from forming some new ridges in your brain, getting a basic understanding of Greek and Hebrew will level up your experience with Scripture. I took a semi-seminary class on this topic for $25 and had my little brain blown by how much meaning I miss out on stuck in my Anglo box. And no, Jesus didn’t speak King James English. If a class or book isn’t feasible, something as accessible as a week-long devotional series can make a significant impact.

27. Identify the “two things” of each passage. Barring maybe the genealogies, you can find at least one comfort and one challenge in each chunk of Scripture. Come to think of it, even the genealogies are ripe for this assignment. (Like comfort in the fact that not even one name escapes God, no matter how ancient or small or hard to pronounce, and the challenge to see every single life with that same compassionate attention to detail. If people matter to my King, people should matter to me.)

28. Contextualize it. Pretend you’re going to frame the day’s text for an assortment of audiences—your kid, a lost neighbor, the pastor, that legalistic great-aunt. This practice serves two purposes: translating the passage into new language sinks it deeper into your own brain, but it also prepares you practically to engage distinct individuals as the need may arise. Gospel fluency requires speaking many dialects.

29. Read with themes in mind. The more acquainted you become with Scripture, the more you’ll notice its grand motifs. As you study, consider how you might label this specific passage—would it be grouped with other verses about suffering or the triumph of good over evil or work or rescue? Perhaps repentance or wisdom, relationship or blessing? There are endless possibilities when it comes to the intersection of the Word of God and the stuff of everyday life.

30. Lean on the Spirit. Listen, friends: you can implement every one of these ideas and not experience growth. Jesus’ biggest critics were professional Scripture scholars. Coming to the Word on your own steam will be an exercise in futility, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Without the Spirit quickening and inviting you to see light, it’s all just a hobby. Study with a deep awareness of your need—that’s the party invitation He’s looking for.

Just so you know, these methods are neither magical nor exhaustive. This is a springboard, not a checklist. Get on, jump off, make up your own additions, tweak and pinch and stretch and make mistakes and grow your very own go-to assortment of study prompts, places you can find the Word of God to be living and active, never returning void, useful, surprising, welcoming, the front door to the truest home you’ll ever know. It’s so, so good, and it’s waiting for you.

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